Who Is Richard Mellon Scaife?
He's very rich and very partisan, but is he behind an anti-Clinton conspiracy?
By Brooks Jackson/CNN
WASHINGTON (April 27) -- Who is Richard Scaife? He's a 65-year-old billionaire Republican wielding power from the shadows.
According to President Bill Clinton's allies, he's the main money man behind a right-wing anti-Clinton conspiracy, attacking with his money. Former White House counsel Lanny Davis argues, "He's using it to destroy a president of the United States."
If it's a conspiracy, it's a pretty open one. Scaife's tax-exempt foundations disclose their grants on the Web. Among them: $2.4 million over several years to American Spectator to pay for anti-Clinton reporting, even a private eye to dig up dirt. And millions more went to other anti-Clinton groups.
| Documents: Grants From Scaife Foundations, 1994-1996|
He refused CNN's request for an interview, but this much is undisputed: Richard Mellon Scaife is very rich and very partisan.
He was born to great wealth, the great grand-nephew of Andrew Mellon, growing up in Pittsburgh at the family's opulent home, Penguin Court. Often in the care of servants, his hobby was reading newspapers.
Burton Hersh, author of "The Mellon Family," said, "Even as a child, he always saw the correlation between the media and the reputation of politicians. That's certainly been a sub-theme of his life."
Today he owns a newspaper, Pittsburgh's second largest, the Tribune-Review. But he has made his main mark not as a media baron, but by financing Republican politics.
He was the second-largest donor to the Nixon-Agnew campaign in 1972, giving $1 million.
Former President Ronald Reagan appointed many veterans of Scaife-funded think tanks to his administration.
Later, Scaife gave to GOPAC, the political fund that helped make Newt Gingrich speaker in 1994. Gingrich says Scaife's money laid the basis for modern conservatism. And his money still flows:
- To the Heritage Foundation alone, nearly $3.5 million from Scaife foundations in the most recent three years on record.
- $1.22 million to the American Enterprise Institute.
- $1.40 million to Stanford University's Hoover Institution.
- $325,000 to the Cato Institute.
- $575,000 to the Citizens for a Sound Economy, among others.
Scaife has particular contempt for the Clintons. At a Heritage Foundation event in November 1994, Scaife said, "I think maybe Hillary and company have it figured out right. They wouldn't be happy here."
Scaife's foundations shovel millions into groups hostile to Bill Clinton. The Free Congress Foundation, which runs a conservative cable channel, received $1.9 million from 1994 to 1996.
Hollywood's Center for the Study of Public Culture, which sees liberal bias in the movies, got nearly $1.8 million. Accuracy in Media, a group still promoting the idea that Clinton aide Vince Foster may have been murdered, got $675,000.
At Scaife's newspaper his reporter Christopher Ruddy doggedly pursues the Foster case. And when Ruddy's book, "The Strange Death of Vincent Foster," got a bad write-up in the American Spectator, saying Ruddy sounded like a "right-wing nut," Scaife cut off the magazine's money.
American Spectator Editor-In-Chief R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. said, "Dick was angered by the review. And called me and said he didn't care to support the American Spectator any further."
The Spectator used most of Scaife's money for what was called "the Arkansas project." Through an Arkansas bait shop, Spectator operatives kept in touch with Clinton accuser David Hale, even supplying Hale with $200 to make phone calls from prison.
Now Independent Counsel Ken Starr is investigating possible illegal witness-tampering, because a woman and her son say Hale got even more of Scaife's money, something the Spectator denies.
Tyrrell said, "No, we have no evidence that money went to Hale. In fact, if money went to Hale from my people they'd be in big trouble."
Some Clinton allies say Starr himself may have a conflict because of Scaife money. Scaife has given nearly $13 million over the last 36 years to Pepperdine University, which offered Starr a job.
But Pepperdine, Scaife and Starr all deny any connection. "I have never met him. I have never talked to him. I have had no arrangement -- implicit, explicit, direct or indirect -- with him," Starr said this month when announcing he would not take the Pepperdine position.
To his detractors, Scaife is spoiled, vindictive, narrow-minded.
A former Scaife employee, Pat Minarcin, said, "He has the emotional maturity of a very angry 12-year-old, and he has all this money and he can do whatever he wants with it."
In Pittsburgh, Minarcin edited a magazine for Scaife, but resigned. "He [Scaife] presented a list of people who he wanted the magazine to attack, a kind of enemies list," Minarcin said
Scaife's defenders say he's a gentleman, exercising his First Amendment right to speak out. William Bennett, who sits on the board of one Scaife foundation, said, "It's a free country; the conservatives can give to conservative causes, liberals to liberal causes."
And supporters point to his philanthropy. He's given millions to support an art gallery named for his mother and millions for historic preservation projects like Pittsburgh's Station Square.
Scaife heightens suspicions by operating in extreme privacy, from the 39th floor of his Pittsburgh office tower, with no interviews and no cameras.
Former White House counsel Davis said, "I think it's the mystery, the man behind the scenes pulling the strings and that's the scene we all remember at the end of the Wizard of Oz."
Is Richard Scaife great and powerful or just the man behind the curtain?
That's a matter of opinion. But it is a fact this billionaire has spent millions in tax-free money attacking the current occupants of the White House.